A letter to Mary Beth Chapman, on suffering

Dear Mary Beth

You’re super busy and famous and caring for an amazing family, I know, so I’m just trusting that through the people who filter your mail this letter will somehow cross your screen.

I recently read your book, Choosing to SEE. I’m incredibly glad and grateful that you wrote it. It was dream-affirming, perspective-shifting, scar-lasering, God-honouring. I’ve recommended it to pretty much everyone.

Having journeyed a bit with you through the pages of your story, I kind of feel like I know you and I have mountains of respect for you. Don’t worry – not a crazy cyber-stalking groupie. I just feel compelled to put my thoughts out there, even if you don’t get time to read them.

I was slightly alarmed at how hard your book smacked me in deep raw places. I realised that if I had read it before having kids of my own, the intensity of the impact would have been cushioned. Even more so if our eldest son hadn’t been born blind.

Cameron came into the world in April 2008. When he was six weeks old we discovered that he had dense bilateral congenital cataracts and microphthalmia. What followed for me and my husband was an eighteen-month time lapse of numbness and immobilising fear and surgeries and waiting and anger and hope and disconnect and doubt and a jolting of our core beliefs. A lot of it is fogged over in my memory but I recorded most of it here and here.

Long story. The point is, in the midst of it all – and still – I knew two things: this was definitely the darkest thing I’d ever faced, and it had changed me forever.

I’ve been thinking mostly about the second reality. How acute suffering changes people. For me, it’s as if my heart got ripped right down the middle so that the insides lay exposed. The rip was painful but it tore open some areas that hadn’t surfaced before. Like whole chambers of compassion that had been lying neatly dormant. Suddenly a new kind of love started bleeding from the rip. Things that hadn’t much concerned me before – other people’s pain – had me praying, weeping, profoundly empathising. I really took myself by surprise, like when you know it’s not actually you, it’s Jesus in you.

Also, since the rip, people can walk into my heart far more easily. There’s an easy-access gash and no effective queuing system. It means my heart is much more crowded, much heavier, and harder to carry around some days, but it’s also pumping in a totally alive kind of way.

But suffering is one of those double-edged swords. It could just as easily ensnare me with cynicism, convincing me to string up barrier tape and no entry signs across my heart-rip. Oswald Chambers said, ‘We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person… the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus.’

And suffering, I suppose, is irrational. Only God knows. A friend commented recently that he’s never known anyone to get over suffering by having it explained. The way out of the darkness is never the ‘Why?’ but rather the ‘What now?’ It’s almost as if the power that suffering has to wrench our hearts into Jesus-type shapes is in the mystery. So I’m determined never to let suffering make me old and ugly inside. I pray that it would do its mysterious work, making much of Him through my life.

The tragedy that your family withstood was way different to ours. Way, way harder. But I guess sometimes these things needn’t be graded or equated or compared. Reading your honest outpourings of pain gave me the chance to cry again. I think at the time of finding out about Cameron’s disability and in the ensuing months I felt I had to be the one who was hard core and holding it all together. I didn’t cry nearly as much as I probably should have. So every now and then when something moves me and the floodgates open I heal a little more.

Just FYI, Cameron is turning four next month and he has far exceeded the initial prognoses for his vision. Despite the hard days when we have to readjust dreams or squash the sadness, we have had four insanely joyous years parenting a mini superhero. He is an articulate, confident little man with astounding intuition and insight, and he is the biggest, bravest brother to our little Scott.

Thank you, once again, for sharing your story with a hurting world. Wow, you’ve been such a blessing to me. May the God of galaxies and quarks continue to blanket you in His seriously-hard-to-understand love.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defines beautiful people like this (and you’re indisputably one of them):

‘The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.’


Yours sincerely

Dalene Reyburn

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